Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Determining which things are important and which are not is the essence of life"

“Persistence and obstinacy are enormously important and Jews have been known, and are alternately proud and not proud, for being hard-headed and unable to move.

Determining which things are important and which are not is the essence of life.

They may be your family, your environment, your chosen way of life.

The ability to be persistent and to go on and not allow yourself to be diverted is important here.

On the other hand, if a person becomes obstinate about any kind of little thing, then it is basically damaging.

So I have to decide that I will be obstinate only about important things”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews, p. 78 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"A double standard is practiced in the attitude toward the state of Israel"

“Nations that are considered barbaric, of an inferior level, and degenerate are described or treated favorably whenever they show some progressive trait that others do not expect to find in them.

Among such people, any good action will simply be considered noble, any action that is not completely base will be considered a good deed, and any activity that elsewhere would be normal is considered progressive and viewed as some special advance.

The very opposite is true for those who have any sense of being chosen.

For them, every descent is a double degradation, every defect stands out and is recognizable to all, and no action that is excused in others is forgiven in them.

This double standard is practiced, of course, in the attitude toward the state of Israel.

This state is criticized and accused for every deed that is normally condoned in other states”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews, p. 173 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.


Monday, December 29, 2008

"The idea is to bring light"

"There is a scriptural correspondence to every mitzvah.

And yet the connection between Torah and mitzvot is not at all that simple.

The question asked by the ancients, for example, was: Which precedes?

Is the Torah the instruction and means of the mitzvot or are the mitzvot instruments enabling us to reveal the Torah?

The idea, of course, is to bring light; it is not only a theoretical question of principle and practice.

What, after all, is the role of theory; what is its importance against the actuality of practice?

To illustrate: There are instruments that perform complex operations; sometimes the operations are so complicated that they can make conclusions in the realm of theory.

In fact, laboratory equipment exists not for its own sake, but to help gain conclusive evidence for the theory at the basis of knowledge.

Some cyclotrons of research are not only huge and very expensive toys intended to provide information about the tiniest of particles; they also help to create theoretical conclusions about the nature of matter.

Similarly, one could say that there is a great mitzvah with lots of details, such as Shabbat.

The tractate Shabbat (theory) is thus the principal instrument to gain knowledge of the mitzvah (practice).

It is only theory -- the mitzvah is what counts.

The Torah is only an accompaniment, that which comes to surround and explain the mitzvah.

Or else, one could say that the mitzvah is the essence, and the Torah is that which flows from it, giving it a certain form."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, p.331-332, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The seven branches of the menorah--these are the seven shepherds"

"All of Israel is of one mold, and each individual receives inspiration from the seven branches of the menorah.

These are the seven shepherds (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David) and mark the availability of different pathways to the Divine.

There is a division of essence.

There are people who are more inclined to the soul of Abraham and others who favor of the line of Isaac.

Each receives a certain quality from a source that determines the structure of his personality.

The greater the receptivity, the more one is able to get from any one branch of the menorah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p.329-330, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 26, 2008

"Israel has to be a wholeness"

"The original menorah was cast in one piece of gold.
The idea is that Israel has to be a wholeness.

Each member is responsible and liable for the others in a singleness of essence.

Concerning this concept of mutual responsibility, there is no denying the obvious fact that Jews do tend to be contentious and argumentative with one another.

Antagonisms and conflicts within the community have always been all too prevalent.

Nevertheless, the sense of spiritual unity has usually been present, the knowledge that there is a basic connection.

Each Jew is a part of an organic whole, like a limb or an eye of a single human body, and even if there is a lack of harmony or an illness in the body, the organic unity remains.

The whole is a molten menorah, all of gold.

Thus, there is a certain basic understanding among the people, each type nourishing the other.

To be sure the golden mold of the menorah may be covered with dust, and the dirt may accumulate into such a considerable layer that the goal will be completely invisible.

The task, then, of the teacher is not necessarily to devise some new system of thought or to provide the people with a new head and a new heart -- which cannot be done in any case -- but to dig strenuously into the covering layer of dirt to reveal the gold beneath."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p.328-330, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 25, 2008

"The oil of the Torah needs a wick to hold the flame of light"

“The oil of the Torah needs a wick to hold the flame of light.

It cannot burn of itself.

Something has to transfer the oil in small, controllable quantities.

Otherwise, there is a conflagration.

And it is the body of man that constitutes such a wick.

The ignited flame is the mitzvah, giving off a spiritual light.

The body functions as a useful device.

It helps to manipulate the immense things of the world so that there can be ‘light’ without an explosion.

Of course, the body also causes a lot of trouble for the soul.

But it does provide the means for the soul's achievements.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p..350 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A soul can kindle a thousand others"

"The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, devotes a great deal of commentary to the fact that oil as a vehicle of fire has enormous advantages over grain and wine, in that it can transmit without losing its substance.

The more I share my grain and wine, the less I have.

In contrast, a flame that can be used to light a thousand other flames, and a soul can kindle a thousand others."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 348


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Light does not belong to this world"

“Light is the Genesis-creation of the world.

The primary utterance of creation is "Let there be light," and the first act of creation is the distillation of light, its separation from darkness.

The Midrash asks:

Where was light created from?

And the answer is whispered:

‘God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of its splendor shone from one end of the world to the other’ (Genesis Rabbah 3:4).

In other words, light, fundamentally, does not belong to this world.

It is, rather, an emanation of a different essence, from the other side of reality.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free, “The Motif of Light in the Jewish Tradition,” p. 181, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, December 22, 2008

"Man is an array of lights"

"In a famous book of Kabbalistic commentary, Sefer Hasidim ("The Book of the Devout"), the 613 limbs and organs of the human body are associated with the 613 commandments of the Torah.

Each commandment corresponds to a specific part of the body.

Man is an array of lights, and each mitzvah gives off its own small light.

Our lives consist of lighting one light here, one light there.

All these lights together make up a human being, the ideal image of the person, as though man were merely a brace, or a stand, for the 613 lights."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 340-341


Sunday, December 21, 2008

"We do not see things; we see their light"

"Everything is born of light, and it would be more accurate to say that everything we see is only a category of light.

In other words, we do not see things; we see their light.

This is also true for the foremost symbol of light in Jewish mysticism: the Infinite Light, Ohr Ein Sof.

We cannot know the Infinite, but only what emanates from it--its light, which is both the principle and the essence of all reality.

Just as we can perceive only the light of the physical world, we cannot know the Infinite God, only His emanation."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights, p. 332 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 19, 2008

"Whether a microbe or a galaxy, all are of the same proportion to Him"

“On one hand, we feel God to be very near; on the other, as we see, He is very distant.

We call Him Father.

We also call Him ‘Ein Sof’ (Infinite).

Actually, I need both of these, especially when I am concerned with the question of Divine Providence.

For whenever I move something -- even to the slightest degree -- it has a reason and a result.

As the Tzadik said, lifting up a handful of sand and letting it run out through his fingers:

‘He who does not believe that every one of these particles returns exactly to the place that God wishes, is a heretic.’

Another image, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, says that sometimes a great storm comes, hurls everything about, and causes the trees to shake violently so that the leaves fall.

One such leaf may drop close to a worm, and it was for this the whole world was in a furor -- that a worm may eat of a certain leaf.

This then, is the aspect of personal Providence.

God's word activates and changes the world all the time.

At every moment there is a totally new state of affairs.

Whether a microbe or a galaxy, all are equally part of this and are in the same proportion to Him.

This means that God is close to us without ceasing.

Nothing can occur without Him.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Sustaining Utterance, p.28 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Repentence must come from the depths of the heart, not out of shallowness"

"There are actually two levels of repentance.

One is that related to those sins committed in error, which includes sins for which the individual is held responsible, just as though they had been committed deliberately.

As the Baal Shem Tov said, when a person repents he places himself on another level of consciousness: "What I know now I was previously unconscious of."

One rises to a higher level, in which sins are seen as mistakes.

That which was previously considered an action performed in full awareness is now viewed as having been performed in ignorance.

As it has been said, "A person does not sin unless the spirit of folly enters into him."

With the passing of folly comes the recognition of error.

That is one level of repentance, the one in which a person extricates himself from a certain way of life and saves himself from his past in order to reach another level of being.

The second level of repentance is the one in which deliberate sins are transmuted into virtues, when every transgression one has committed is reckoned as though it were a mitzvah.

To reach this very high level of repentance, the individual must reach a point in his life equivalent to "the end of days," the end of time and world.

He must change the very essence of himself so drastically that all the facts of his existence, all thoughts or actions, assume an entirely different meaning.

He shifts into another field of being.

The incalculable difficulty of such a shift may be illustrated with a simple example from the physical world.

Let us take the laws of symmetry.

While it is mathematically possible to find the correspondence for almost anything in terms of geometrical perspective, it is practically impossible to transform something with a right-hand symmetry to a left-hand symmetry, like a glove for instance.

The whole system of coordinates has to be revolutionized or transcended.

To transform one's sins into virtues, requires the same sort of total upheaval as changing a left glove to a right glove.

Incidentally, one of the expressions used to depict this sort of repentance is "to turn inside out like a seal," the seal consisting today, as in ancient times, of an embossed emblem whose negative face is inscribed when pressed.

The negative-positive relationship of the faces of a seal is the same as the left right relationship of the hands.

This extreme transformation requires the most drastic action that the individual can undertake: repentance which is done out of love and not out of fear.

This repentance must come, therefore, from the depths of the heart, not out of its shallowness.

In practical terms, one must relate back to that which he truly desires.

For the individual has many desires and the question must therefore be:

Which one is the true desire?

A man may insist that he really wants to grow in spirit and to carry out the commandments.

Does he really want this with all his being, from the depths of his heart?

Were he given complete freedom, what would he do?"

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, p. 38, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah"

"Kabbalah is the inner, mystical dimension of the Torah.

As indicated by its name, which means "what has been received" or "tradition," Kabbalah is based on traditions received from one's teachers, who received them, in turn, from their teachers.

Kabbalah is not a separate area of Torah knowledge but rather the hidden, spiritual dimension of the revealed aspects of the Torah.

Whereas the revealed aspects of the Torah, such as halakhah, speak primarily about visible, physical things, Kabbalah speaks directly about spiritual entities.

It speaks of the system of Worlds and sefirot through which God creates, sustains, and directs the universe.

And it discusses the interaction between those spiritual entities and the performance of mitzvot in the physical world.

Hence, Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah.

All Torah study is based on the acceptance of tradition and on the principle that because the Torah is a divine gift, a person must make himself into a proper vessel in order to receive it.

In the study of Kabbalah, however, these approaches are even more important.

Because Kabbalah is the inner spiritual dimension of the Torah, the individual must study it in a way that engages his inner, spiritual dimension.

A person who wishes to study Kabbalah should already have an inner understanding of the ideas, and he must pursue the study of Kabbalah in a spirit of purity and holiness, in order to become a suitable vessel.”
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding of the Tanya, p. 304, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"An essential element of the inner truth of Judaism"

“God as father, close and intimate, and God as exalted and majestic Being—which seemed to be at opposing poles of religious experience, are united in the world of Judaism.

Indeed, the combined presence is in itself a fundamental principle in the Jewish worldview.

As the poet says, ‘Further than any distance and nearer than any nearness,’ or, ‘Where ever I find You, You are concealed in evanescence, and where ever I do not find You, Your glory fills the earth.’

This dual conception, known in philosophy as the combination of the transcendental and the imminent view of the Divine, and referred to in the Kabbalah as the tension between the aspects of God as ‘surrounding all worlds’ and ‘permeating all worlds,’ is an essential element of the inner truth of Judaism, and constitutes a central issue in every work of Jewish thought.

Any examination of Jewish faith relates to this issue either directly or indirectly.

The kabbalistic appellation of God—‘the Infinite, Blessed be He’—in itself reflects this double aspect of the Divine, combining an abstract, distancing term alongside one of nearness and human concern”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From A Guide to Jewish Prayer, p. 12, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.


Monday, December 15, 2008

"A total and all-inclusive revelation"

"The Revelation at Mount Sinai is the core of Judaism.

And this not only because it is the beginning but because it is apprehended as a total and all-inclusive revelation.

That is, this revelation is considered the opening point, the transition point, between the higher essence and the lower essence – between God and man.

After this revelation there is actually no need for a new revelation because besides being the first or original of its kind, the Revelation is a one-time event that includes all the other revelatory events.

It has been compared to the primordial act of the creation of the world, which was also a first and single act and included all that was and will be in the world.

So, too, the Revelation at Mount Sinai is such a unique event containing in it all that afterward will ever be made known about the connection between God and man."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola , 14:2


Sunday, December 14, 2008

"God tests the pots that are whole"

“God knows the person whom He is testing and is confident that the outcome will be for the good.

As a certain Midrash teaches: just as the potter knocks on the newly completed vessel to ascertain if it is sound, so does God knock on a man.

A potter will refrain from knocking on an obviously cracked vessel, it would only break.

He tests the pots that are whole”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, p. 204 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 12, 2008

"When a person's mind grasps a concept of Torah"

“When a person’s mind grasps and enclothes a concept of Torah, his mind is simultaneously enclothed within the concept.

His mind envelops the divine wisdom, and the divine wisdom envelops his mind.

The divine wisdom becomes part of him, and he becomes part of it”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya, p. 148, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The qualities that create the inward character of the Jew are received as an inheritance"

“Generally speaking, the qualities that create the inward character of the Jew are not the choice of the individual.

Each person receives these qualities as an inheritance from his ancestors, generation after generation, from all those fathers and mothers who have survived, and who have been selected as capable of carrying the work of Judaism.

However, what the individual receives is only the whole body of primary qualities, and he has the choice as to how they should be used.

He has to define their value and essential nature, what they aim at and in what way they can reach perfection."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 76-77


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The person performing the commandment is in the action stage, but the person studying Torah is in the planning stage"

"When a person performs a commandment, he is like a worker constructing the building.

But when a person studies Torah, he is involved with the building plans themselves.

He is, so to speak, considering the instructions anew together with the Architect himself.

The person performing the commandment is in the action stage, but the person studying Torah is in the planning stage.

And at the planning stage, the connection with the planner, with the one who has the will, is deeper and more intimate than it is at the action stage."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Learning from the Tanya, p. 199


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Faith is one of the attributes of the human character"

"Like the Jewish way as a whole, faith is a long, unending process of growth and change.

Such a growth process entails accompanying pains, new additions that must be consolidated at each stage, and gaps that must be carefully filled in.

As long as the process continues, special care must be taken at certain points, space for recuperation allowed at others.

Faith is one of the attributes of the human character.

Its scope and power are a function of both inheritance and cultivation.

With rare exceptions, people who are musically gifted, to use an analogy, do not achieve full expression of their gifts unaided or all at once but require nurture and training.

The same is true of faith:

A single ‘revelation’ that solves everything is difficult to come by, and even one who has a deep religious experience must then expand on it and implant it firmly in his soul if it is not to remain merely an isolated incident."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Problems of Faith” p. 42, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, December 8, 2008

"Why did God create rodents and other crawling creatures?"

Commenting on the statement by Hillel the Elder in the Talmud, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and drawing them near to the Torah" Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

“Hillel the Elder is not observing that we must love the righteous, but ‘creatures.’

‘Creatures’ is a general term that refers to all beings, even the very lowest, of whom we can say nothing more positive than that they were created.

In this regard, the prophet Elijah was once asked why God created rodents and other crawling creatures.

He replied that when God looks at His world and sees the evil of human beings and wishes to destroy them, He considers those rodents as well and decides that -- just as He allows them to exist -- so will he allow such people to exist.

There are people whose only saving grace is that there are other creatures even lower than they.

It is of such people that Hillel the Elder tells us that it is a mitzvah to love them and bring them close to Torah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p.132, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, December 7, 2008

"He sees not what he lacks but what he has"

"The ‘righteous person who experiences good’ (in the Talmud's phrase) is a person who is immune to evil.

He sees things differently than we generally do.

He sees not what he lacks but what he has.

This is a different spiritual construct, a different way of living, a state of being in which it is impossible to suffer.

This is not to say that, in an objective sense, such a person does not experience troubles and ills but that he does not suffer.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, certainly not a naïve man, contracted tuberculosis at the end of his life.

He never complained about having contracted this disease, but expressed great pleasure if, between coughing and spitting up blood, he was able to say a few words.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya, p. 285 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 5, 2008

"We strive to not only instruct, but also to educate"

An interview with Rabbi Steinsaltz was published in the French magazine, Le Petit Hebdo shortly after the publication of a French edition of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s book, Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew.

Grateful thanks to my friend, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, Spiritual Leader of The Sephardic Cultural Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was kind enough to translate the interview for the benefit of readers of this blog. Rabbi Allouche’s father, Michael Allouche, is the translator of several of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s books into French, including Teshuvah.

An Encounter with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

by Avraham Azoulay

Le P’tit Hebdo : You have written many books on Judaism. What is the goal of your book Teshuvah, which has recentely been translated to French?

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz : The preface of the book indicates the goal of the book clearly. It is not a book that aims to preach in favor of Teshuvah. Rather, it was written to help all Jews, close or distant, who strive to return to Judaism, by asking: “What shall I do today to succeed in returning home?” My basic assumption is that the reader of this book has already developed a minimum level of interest in Judaism. But for those who have absolutely no interest in any attribute of Judaism, I have other books to suggest.

L.P.H. : Your books are translated to many languages including Chinese and Japanese! How can you ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the translation?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Obviously, I do not master all languages. All I do is simply try to find a good translator. Initially, Teshuvah was written in Hebrew, and shortly after it was translated to English. I know the author of the French translation, Michael Allouche, very well. He has already translated some of my additional books. The subject of the book also interests him personally, and he expresses himself nicely. I think that the French translation is very good, probably even better than the translations in other languages.

L.P.H. : Is this indeed a book where you aim to “open new doors”?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Certainly. This book does not strive to replace the Code of Jewish Law, which is indispensable to the Jewish home, although it is also very hard to understand for a newcomer who lacks a permanent guide or a teacher. This resembles a classical French Restaurant where the new customer cannot comprehend the complicated names of the various dishes which are offered on the menu. In this book, I simply tried to explain the names and content of the many dishes that Jewish life offers. I have tackled questions, such as: where to begin, what should one study, what constitutes “Kashrut”, Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays. For it is often difficult for Rabbis, or Jews who were raised observant, to perceive the level of ignorance that exists in a Jew who was distant, and to understand the elementary questions that he may face.

L.P.H. : Did you focus on the practical aspects of Judaism?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: In truth, that is an understatement. This book starts by reviewing the essence of teshuvah, and its particularity in the modern world. Besides the practical aspects, which I also wrote about, I have also tackled the “psychology of teshuvah”; the natural and personal struggles that rise deep within a person’s being. Every baal teshuvah undergoes several crisis, which I describe in the book : problems of faith, the relation to his past, or the sometimes disappointing encounter with the religious community. The baal teshuvah, who is determined to change his life whilst continuing to live in this very world, must learn how to relate to his own family, his social and professional environmnent .These are the domains that I dwell on in this book, hoping to furnish a precious guide to those who are willing to make this step.

L.P.H. : In addition to your occupation as an author, you are also the dean of educational institutions, that incorporate a unique approach. Your school in Jerusalem, Mekor Chaim, is extremely successful, notably among the ‘olim’ from France. Is it hard to meet and satisfy all of the demands of the school?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Each year, we receive 150 applications for a class that can only contain 30 students. The selection of students is thus harder than the selection of students in universities! I hope to, one day, expand my establishments, but the political promises currently remain in the realm of nice words. We favor the “olim chadashim” in the selection process. If the motto of France is “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, ours uses words that are slightly different: “Quality, Religiosity, Identity.” We strive to not only instruct, but also to educate our students. Hence, the cooperation of parents is crucial, and for many, Mekor Chaim seems like a large and beautiful family.

L.P.H. : Are you optimistic about the current situation in Israel?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: If you were trying to make me state that the situation in Israel is “good”, I will of course, state that it is far from good. Nevertheless, I am an optimistic Jew, yet with a Jewish definition of optimism. In the 18th Century, there was a great dispute between Leibnitz and Voltaire concerning the type of world that we live in. Leibniz claims that “we live in the best possible world” Voltaire, in Candide, reached an opposite conclusion: “We live in the worst possible world”. In my opinion, the Jewish response to this dispute is as follows: “We live in the worse of possible worlds, in which there is still hope.”

L.P.H. : Is this statement based on mystical sources?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Yes indeed. This quote stems from the teachings of Chaim Vital, the disciple of the Arizal, in his book Etz Chaim. Evil, he teaches, is the ruler of our world, as it is the world of “Kelipa”, a term that is used to describe the concealed presence of God, thus forcing the good to exist as a minority. Yet man has the power to repair the world and transform it into a world of holiness (“Kedusha”). It is thus not surprising that this book also depicts the Messianic era as the culmination of our work to transform this world into a world of holiness. Without a doubt, this is the calling of the Jewish condition: Having complete faith in God, while, at the very same time, working tirelessly to bring about the revelation of God and the ultimate redemption.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

"The question that must be asked is not 'Must I do all or nothing?'"

"The decisive point in the turn to Judaism is not the initial awakening, which can be seen merely as a response to a call.

It is, rather, the inward affirmation of ‘we shall do and we shall obey’ (Exodus 24:7)—the decision to address one’s life to the realization of this commitment—that makes the turn real.

Rather than waiting for an opportune time to make the change all at once—something that may never come along—it is better to change one’s life gradually, by stages, according to one’s inner capacity and outward circumstances.

But this does not lessen the importance of making a firm decision at the outset.

There is a crucial moment in which one ‘receives the Torah,’ with all its contents, both general and specific.

It is then that one sets out on the path, toward the realization of one’s resolve.

Some are able to achieve this relatively easily, passing as if by magic from one world to the other, and encountering few obstacles or difficulties.

But for most it is a complex, long drawn-out process, fraught with tribulations.

The question that must be asked is not, ‘Must I do all or nothing?’ but rather, ‘What beginning can I make that will facilitate eventually reaching the goal of doing it all?’"

--Rabbi Adin Sterinsaltz

From “All or Nothing: The False Dilemma” p. 21, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"I was such a non-believer that I didn't even believe in heresy"

"Over 20 years ago, I recorded and transcribed a meeting between Rabbi Steinsaltz and a group of journalists in New York. One of the journalists asked Rabbi Steinsaltz, “Why did you become religious?”

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

”To even ask such a question is impertinent.

And I've been asked this so many times that it's become tedious.

It's also enervating.

I won't say anything very specific for the same reason that I don't undress in public.

I know that in some places it is done, but not by me.

But, generally speaking, I would say that my turning to religion came about because of two reasons that may not be considered religious enough.

One was that, I am, by nature, an unbeliever, which means that I couldn't take lots of things for granted that other people could.

I discovered when I was very young that people do believe in lots of things.

People were ardently religious because they were taken in by things that other people say, things that people assume to be true.

Now, being an unbeliever almost by nature, I couldn't believe them, so I began to ask questions--but not questions just to annoy people.

My first name, Adin, means gentle.

Someone with this name is almost fated to be very rude.

I was always a delicate boy, so people used to come and pat my head, and say, 'It's such a nice name. It suits you so well.'

So, of course, when you hear this so many times, you become coarser and coarser and more and more rude.

I didn't want to annoy people.

But I began asking questions, many questions about things that were accepted in Israel and in other places.

I was perhaps a greater non-believer than the rest of my countrymen.

They were such great non-believers that they didn't even believe in Judaism.

I was such a non-believer that I didn't even believe in heresy.

So this was the turning, a very important one.

I discovered that one has to believe in many heresies in order to be a heretic.

But in order to accept heresy, one has to be a believer.

And if you have to be a believer, it becomes a matter of choice in what to believe.

That was one point.

The other point was that, as a boy, and certainly as a young man, I was full of desires.

Big ones.

And the world didn't seem big enough.

I wanted more and more and still more.

In a certain way, this was a turn into a fourth dimension, or a fifth dimension, or whatever dimension.

My turning towards religious thinking or thinking about something like God came because the world was too small.

Because of this, because I felt that unless a person becomes attached to the Infinite, the world becomes far too restrictive to live in.

My turnabout was a very slow one, a very painful one.

I'm still trying to become better.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Doing God such a big favor"

"I dislike certain traits in many religious people and one trait is smugness.

I think it is dangerous for a person to go to shul and to think that he does God such a big favor that he will be forgiven for everything.

He is so self-satisfied and feels he is doing God such a favor by visiting His place from time to time."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a talk by Rabbi Steinsaltz in New York City


Monday, December 1, 2008

"Jewish mysticism is very non-mystical"

"One of the differences between mysticism in general and Jewish mysticism in particular is that contrary to all other forms Jewish mysticism is very non-mystical, very bound to the law.

Kabbalah is a kind of a commentary on the mitzvot, on the meaning of the mitzvot.

The feeling, the enjoyment, and the result are not entirely connected.

For example, sometimes the sexual act, creating life, is enjoyable; sometimes it is less enjoyable.

The enjoyment has no real connection with either the fruitfulness or with the meaning of the process.

Some mystical things that are practiced are a kind of a spiritual masturbation.

That is one side.

On the other hand, any kind of mitzvah is basically a communion, a binding of oneself with God.

Sometimes I enjoy this act of being bound.

Sometimes I don't enjoy it.

My enjoyment or lack of enjoyment doesn't change the fact very much.

Sometimes I have a feeling for it and sometimes I have to learn about it.

Sometimes I don't get it right.

But again, it doesn't matter so very much.

My enjoyment is a kind of enticing force of doing things, but this is just a small part of the real deed, which is the creation of some kind of connection between man and God, and this is the meaning of a mitzvah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a lecture by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in New York City.